Avoid the Landfill by Recycling Vinyl Roofing
February 20, 2020 0
The time has come to establish a post-consumer, vinyl-roof recycling program in the U.S.
Carl De Leon, Vinyl Roofing Div., CFFA
Skyrocketing raw-material costs, higher landfill tipping fees, legislation to restrict disposal of construction materials-and an architectural community that demands the lightest environmental footprint that can be achieved-all are leading toward the mainstreaming of post-consumer recycling. In the not-too-distant future, specifiers will call for post-consumer content in a roof project. With its European counterparts blazing the trail, the North American vinyl (PVC) roofing industry has entered a new phase in its commitment to environmental sustainability through recycling.
Because thermoplastic single-ply vinyl membrane can be heated and reformed repeatedly over its lifespan, it has long been an industry best practice to recover production trimmings and scrap and recycle the material into new membrane. Well-run, properly equipped vinyl-membrane production plants are capable of converting virtually all of the raw material and components that go into making the membrane into the final installed roof system (or other applications).
|The re-roofing of Boston’s Marriott Long Wharf hotel was a pilot project with an ideal recycling scenario. The project was close to the membrane manufacturer’s head office, and a local recycler had an established program for handling thermal insulation.|
Typical post-industrial recycled products have included accessories such as roofing walkway pads, commercial-grade flooring, and concrete expansion joints. In addition, scrap can be reintroduced as a raw material into a subsequent membrane-manufacturing process. Some roofing manufacturers collect their customers’ scrap, as well as the general-purpose scrap of other vinyl fabricators, for reuse in production of new membranes.
Building on this track record, the member manufacturers of the Vinyl Roofing Div. of the Chemical Fabrics & Film Association (CFFA), Cleveland, have initiated a feasibility study to evaluate strategies for making post-consumer recycling workable on a broad scale, as it has been in Europe for many years.
Where it began
Vinyl roofs have been in use for more than 40 years in Europe, and roofing manufacturers there have been recycling retired roofs into other useful products since 1994. That was the year a consortium of companies funded the construction and operation of a facility in Germany to reclaim the growing volume of vinyl membranes at the end of their service lives, and return them to the original manufacturers.
Over the years, the material taken back has been used in a variety of applications, including as feedstock in the production of new roofing membranes. Typically incorporated into the back side of the sheet where potential color variations are not a factor, the recovered material can comprise 5% to 15% by weight of the finished product. Reports from the field indicate that, at 10+ years of age, the first membranes made with recycled post-consumer material are performing the same as membranes produced of virgin raw materials.
Today, RoofCollect, a European Single Ply Waterproofing Association (ESWA) program, (www.eswa.be), coordinates the recovery and processing of post-consumer vinyl roofing membranes. In conjunction with the European Commission, ESWA sets annual targets for post-consumer roof recycling. In 2006, 4.4 million lb. of roofing membrane were recycled due to the efforts of the association.
ESWA is now working with the recycler Interseroh (Cologne, Germany) to establish a pan-European collection system that would facilitate recycling in closer proximity to the job site. ESWA is also investigating strategies for incorporating higher percentages of recycled material into finished membranes.
Less is more
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, construction and demolition waste total an estimated 136 million tons annually. The vinyl roofing industry is committed to combining existing post-consumer recycling technologies with logistical expertise to limit its contribution to these numbers.
Post-consumer recycling of vinyl roof membranes in the U.S. began in 1999. Working in tandem with a vinyl membrane manufacturer, a Massachusetts recycling company produced a highway cold-patching material made from old vinyl roofing membranes and other recovered plastics. Today, state-of-the-art grinding equipment makes it possible to process roofing membrane and convert it into feedstock for new materials.
Only membranes that have been mechanically attached or loose laid have been reprocessed in North America. There is no experience as yet with membranes that have been adhered to insulation or to other substrates, but …